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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 April, 2004, 13:38 GMT 14:38 UK
'Aid crisis looming' in DR Congo
Illegal diamond miner
Angola says it is forced to expel illegal diamond miners
A humanitarian crisis may be looming in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a UN agency has warned.

Tens of thousands of illegal diamond mine workers have been thrown out of neighbouring Angola in the latest wave of expulsions of foreign workers.

They are arriving in a part of DR Congo with scarce food supplies and few aid provisions, says the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Aid agencies are scrambling to get emergency supplies to the area.

Hazardous journey

Some 40,000 people have arrived in the provinces of Bandundu and Western Kasai in DR Congo since 2 April, says OCHA.

It led a multi-agency assessment of the area last week.

Before they leave, entire families have been subjected to invasive body searches, which have resulted in some deaths, OCHA spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs told AP news agency.

Others are reported to have drowned trying to cross the dangerous Tungila river, which separates the two countries, she said.

And with at least 2,500 people arriving daily in DR Congo, there is little food, water, non-food essentials and health provisions to go around.

Many are living on the streets or in public buildings.

"What we fear is the beginning of a humanitarian crisis," Ms Byrs told AP.

Kinshasa has appealed for humanitarian assistance.

Provisions from several UN and other aid agencies have begun to arrive, including high-energy bicuits, inflatable boats, blankets and tents.

OCHA says it hopes to send a team to Angola's remote Lunda Norte province, from where the Congolese are being expelled.

'Sovereign act'

The Angolan government says the country has seen a massive influx of foreign workers wanting to "take advantage" of its resources, since 2002, when the 27-year civil war ended.

It says their expulsion is an act of "sovereignty in defence of the economy" for a country heavily dependent on its diamond exports for income.

But the UN has criticised the way the expulsions have been handled.

"While a state has a legitimate right to control who lives or works within its borders, returns of migrant workers must be done without jeopardizing people's physical safety and dignity," said Jan Egeland, the UN emergency relief co-ordinator.


SEE ALSO:
Angola swoops on diamond diggers
10 Apr 04  |  Africa
Angola expels diamond diggers
15 Jan 04  |  Africa
Scratching a living in Angola
14 Nov 02  |  Africa


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